Fallen Flags, The Classic American Railroad

Fallen Flags, a name all too common now describing American railroads (just a bittersweet fact of the free market at work), is a term describing those railroads whose corporate name has been dissolved either through merger, bankruptcy, or liquidation. At one time in the United States there were nearly 140 Class I railroads (or those with at least $1 million annual operating revenue at that time) and today these are commonly known as the fallen flags or “classic” railroads. The older folks reading this can remember almost all of these in person, from the legendary Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway with its famous Warbonnet paint scheme to the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and this country’s first common carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. 

Milwaukee Road Little Joe E21 powers an eastbound manifest freight as the train climbs out of Avery, Idaho along the St. Joe River during August of 1971.

Most of the classic roads remembered today operated roughly until the 1970s before bankruptcy and mass-mergers (which began in the 1950s with the Norfolk & Western purchase of the Virginian Railway) did many in and dwindled the Class I numbers to just a handful. While the glory days of railroads (when they were earning the most profits) extended from roughly the late 19th century to just after WWII, ask most railfans and the time period with which these railroads are best remembered extends from roughly the 1940s to the 1970s when the railroads began switching from steam locomotives to diesel-electrics (commonly known as “diesels”) and paint schemes and emblems abounded, giving each company its own, personal identity with which folks could relate to. 

Much of this "bonding" came from the fact that railroads during those days operated in a particular region or part of the country where folks could easily recognize the system which ran through their town (and to some extent, railroads back then used to be a bit more cordial than today), and not the entire eastern or western half of the country like we see today (for instance, some small towns boasted four to five Class Is at one time!). It should be noted however, that many of the lines we recognize today as classics either did not start out that way or were "mega-mergers" themselves through purchase or takeover of other, smaller systems. Examples of these companies include the New York Central, Reading, New Haven, Atlantic Coast Line, Missouri Pacific, and many others. 


The Alphabet Route 

Baltimore & Ohio 

Bangor & Aroostook Railroad 

Bessemer & Lake Erie 

Boston & Maine 

Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad 

Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway 

Canadian National Railway (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Canadian Pacific Railway (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Central Railroad of New Jersey (Jersey Central) 

Central Vermont Railway 

Chesapeake & Ohio 

Chessie System 


Delaware & Hudson 

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (The Lackawanna) 

Erie Railroad 

Erie Lackawanna 

Lehigh & Hudson River 

Lehigh & New England 

Lehigh Valley 

Long Island Rail Road (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Maine Central 

Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad 

Monongahela Railway 

New York Central System 

New York, New Haven & Hartford 

New York, Ontario & Western Railway 

Pennsylvania Railroad 

Penn Central 

Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines 

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie 

Pittsburgh & West Virginia 

Reading Lines 

Rutland Railroad 

West Virginia Northern 

Western Maryland 

Katy GP40 #180 leads several other Geeps as they roll through Coupland, Texas with a work train on a bright summer day in July of 1977.

In truth, there were actually few now well-known systems that constructed much of their own network or key main routes; it was much less costly to simply purchase smaller lines. In general, many fabled lines gained their names during either the late 19th or early 20th centuries. A few, like the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio system were not created until the 1930s. In any event, today nearly all of those classic companies are gone except for just a few (the Union Pacific is perhaps the most notable along with the Kansas City Southern and the roads up north, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National), although their legends and names will always live on. 


Atlantic Coast Line 

Central of Georgia 

Clinchfield Railroad 

Family Lines System 

Florida East Coast (FEC) (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Gulf, Mobile & Ohio 

Interstate Railroad 

Louisville & Nashville 

Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis 

Norfolk & Western Railway 

Norfolk, Franklin & Danville Railway 

Norfolk Southern (Original) 

Oneida & Western 

Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac 

Seaboard Air Line 

Seaboard Coast Line 

Southern Railway 

Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway, "The TAG Route" 

Tennessee Central Railway 


West Point Route 

Union Pacific 4-8-4 #8444 heads up Ross Rowland's Gold Spike Special on May 10th, 1969 as it rolls southbound through Ogden, Utah. The train is headed to Promontory for the centennial of the Transcontinental Railroad's completion.

Of course, aside from former Class Is (about the only classic lines featured here) other, smaller historic railroads can still be found in service with names like the Ann Arbor, Escanaba & Lake Superior, Claremont Concord, Wheeling & Lake Erie, New York Susquehanna & Western, Florida East Coast, Winchester & Western, Apache Railway, Toledo Peoria & Western, and many more.  Here within this page you will find information on some of the best remembered describing each in more detail and broken down into the territory where they operated (i.e., east, west, north, south). Since the website first debuted I have finally had the chance to feature many of these lines although I realize that some are still omitted. As time allows in the future I will look to cover these companies although as it currently stands there are more than 100 highlighted. 


Akron, Canton & Youngstown Railroad 

Algoma Central Railway 

Belt Railway of Chicago (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Railroad 

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (The Burlington Route) 

Chicago & Eastern Illinois 

Chicago & Illinois Midland 

Chicago & North Western 

Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island) 

Chicago & Western Indiana 

Chicago Great Western 

Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern 

Detroit & Mackinac Railway 

Detroit, Toledo & Ironton 

Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range 

Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Railway 

Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway 

Gateway Western Railway 

Green Bay & Western 

Grand Trunk Western 

Illinois Central 

Illinois Terminal 

Indiana Harbor Belt (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad 

Kansas City Southern (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Lake Superior & Ishpeming (This railroad is still operating but placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Minneapolis & St. Louis 

Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern 

Monon Route 

New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (The Nickel Plate Road) 

Pere Marquette Railway 

Soo Line 

St. Louis Southwestern (The Cotton Belt) 

Toledo, Peoria & Western (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 


Wisconsin Central Railway/Ltd. 

Western Pacific FP7 #804-D is at speed as it leads the California Zephyr through Livermore, California during February of 1970. To the left is the now-abandoned Southern Pacific line through Niles Canyon.


Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (The Santa Fe) 

Central Pacific 

Colorado & Southern 

Denver & Rio Grande Western (The Rio Grande) 

El Paso & Southwestern 

Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT or Katy) 

Missouri Pacific (The MoPac) 

St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (The Frisco) 

Southern Pacific 

Union Pacific (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

A former Burlington SD7 leads a short cut of hoppers along the main line at Eola, Illinois while a "Dinky" commuter consist can be seen to the right during the early Burlington Northern era on August 31, 1970.


Burlington Northern 

Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (The Milwaukee Road) 

The Milwaukee Road's Pacific Coast Extension 

Great Northern 

Northern Pacific 

Pacific Electric Railway 

Spokane International 

Spokane, Portland & Seattle (SP&S) 

Western Pacific 

Yakima Valley Transportation 

A pair of Rock Island E8A's led by #660 lead a passenger consist out of Chicago's LaSalle Street Station on the evening of March 30, 1971. The railroad would shutdown and liquidate nearly a decade later during March of 1980.

Canadian Lines

Pacific Great Eastern/British Columbia Railway 

Northern Alberta Railways 

Railway Express Agency (The REA was not an operating railroad but was an integral part of the railroad industry during the "golden age" when all of the classic systems were in operation.) 

The Rio Grande's fabled narrow-gauge lines were nearing their end when this scene was captured on August 28, 1968 showing Mike K-37 #498 heading an eastbound freight away from Durango. This stretch of the route is now abandoned.

You may notice that Canadian National and Canadian Pacific are now included in the website. After giving it much thought the two lines have played too significant of a role in the railroad industry's history, especially in its current and future state, to be left out and unmentioned. For instance several are now of Canadian ownership/control such as the Soo Line (and indirectly the Milwaukee Road through the Soo's takeover by CP), Delaware & Hudson Railway, Illinois Central, Grand Trunk Western, Central Vermont, and the Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Railway. Lastly, for more reading about many classic short lines like the Durham & Southern, Magma Arizona, Camas Prairie, please click here.

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